Goodbye 2013

Thank you, Jesus, for getting me through this year. I never thought I would make it. How did I make it? With God all things are possible. What a year it has been. As my cousin Valerie said, “I have been praying that God would let this be the worst year of your life.” Please, Lord, let it be. Surely He wouldn’t trust me with a year that is worse than this one. When I first started writing this post I felt a bit sad about being so happy that 2013 is over because this is the year I met Lucy. But Lucy is not in 2013, and neither is Jude and neither is Pax. They are in heaven and heaven is in my future so I can say good bye to 2013 and good riddance.

When my days are over for good and I am looking back on my life I know there will be two distinct parts: Before 2013 and After 2013. I am praying that God doesn’t have more suffering for me in 2014, but if He does, I know He will get me through it and there will be a 2015 after that. I read this verse the other day and it stood out to me.

Acts 1:7,8  He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…”

Never in my wildest dreams did I think this year would happen like this. When I rang in the new year one year ago I had beautiful dreams of welcoming my daughter into our family in 2013. Jesus got to welcome her instead (which is ACTUALLY a much better scenario for her.) And instead of a beautiful year, He had a year of loss and suffering for me. This was a year of sowing in tears, a year of hard work and planting and not seeing much fruit, only barrenness. And who am I to question His timing? He has the authority over my life and He fixes my seasons the way He thinks they should be. Whatever He has for me in 2014, I know it will be accompanied by the power I have received through the Holy Spirit. That’s the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. COULD I handle another 2013 if He chose to give me one? Yes, because I have His power strengthening me and giving me courage and hope and patience.

What if your 2014 turns out to be like my 2013? If you know God and His spirit dwells in you, then you have nothing to fear. And all these days of tears will be used to grow something beautiful and one day He will restore our fortunes. Maybe it will be in 2014, maybe 2024, maybe in heaven, but HE WILL DO IT.

Psalm 126

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
 we were like those who dream.
 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
 then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
 The LORD has done great things for us;
 we are glad.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD, 
like streams in the Negeb!
 Those who sow in tears 
shall reap with shouts of joy!
 He who goes out weeping,
 bearing the seed for sowing, 
shall come home with shouts of joy,
 bringing his sheaves with him.

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Our Baby Pax

It has taken me a while to write about our baby Pax because it was just too painful at first and I needed a little privacy to work through my fresh grief. I’m feeling healed enough now to share a little bit about our baby Pax.

Pax is our 5th child, who we lost to an early miscarriage in October. We thought he/she would be our rainbow baby after losing Lucy and Jude, but it wasn’t to be. We were so excited to get another positive pregnancy test, but very cautious with our hope. The exact same thing happened with Pax that happened with Jude in July. I got a positive pregnancy test, and another and another. I even tested with a few different brands to make sure it was right. After several days I noticed the second line on the tests stopped getting darker and a few days after that I noticed them getting lighter. We lost the baby at the exact same gestation as Jude. Strangely, I had a lot of peace the whole time. I think I’m learning to hold my children with an open hand (or maybe I’m just getting pessimistic.) Either way, God blessed me with peace as I was losing my third baby in eight months. That is a miracle.

My doctor reminded me that this early loss is not connected to anti-kell antibodies at all, since that can’t affect the baby until about 16 or 17 weeks at the earliest. The doctor couldn’t find any reason for this miscarriage, just like my last one with Jude.

We decided to name our baby “Pax” because it means peace. I always wanted to name one of my babies Pax, but Josh said absolutely not because Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have a kid named Pax and he didn’t want people to think we were copying them. Well, after we lost this baby he said we could use the name, so I finally got my baby Pax. I always wanted five kids and now I have them. I feel blessed, but it feels strange for my children in heaven to outnumber my children on earth.

Unfortunately, I never got an ultrasound picture of the baby, but I do have pictures of me while I was pregnant with Pax. Here I am with my boys (and baby Pax) at the Memphis zoo. It was a fun, sunny day and I remember feeling so happy, almost buoyant. I am blessed to have this one happy memory with my baby Pax (and my other two lovies, of course.)

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Pax was due on June 15th, my Dad’s birthday. It has been hard to see other women who are due in June announce their pregnancies. It is hard to see their bellies grow round with the life of their child while mine, yet again, remains flat. And it is hard to see my boys lose the heart to keep praying for a baby they can keep. Losing a baby is so hard, at any stage. Losing THREE is devastating. But God, He is my redeemer and He has given me peace. Nothing can separate me from His love and nothing can separate my children from His love. Even though I am not full of joy right now, it is well with my soul.

“JOY”  -One of my favorite songs since losing Lucy. I cry every time I hear it.

Merry Christmas, baby girl

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Merry Christmas in heaven, baby girl. Today is a hard day for me because it is the biggest celebration of the year, but it is hard to celebrate without you here. All I want for Christmas is you, but I can’t have you right now. Last Christmas we thought for sure that we would have three children around the Christmas tree in 2013. Your Grandmama even gave you a Christmas present last year. A little shirt. I never imagined that that shirt would be your only Christmas present ever. Your absence is felt in our house on this day, and it is so painful.

Buying Christmas presents for your big brothers was hard this year. My heart ached every time I had to walk past the pink aisles full of pretty princesses and baby dolls and dresses. I wanted you so very much, my only girl. Your Daddy and brothers did too. Our house is missing all the pink that was promised when we found out you were a girl.

Our hearts are heavy this Christmas, but I know yours is not. I am thankful that you are in the best home imaginable where every day is a celebration. Every day is Christmas for you, and it’s all because of Jesus. Tell Him I said thank you, so very much. Because of Him I have hope. Also, tell Mary I said thank you, too, for giving up her baby so I could keep mine forever. Her sacrifice has not escaped me, this year especially.

Lucy Dair, I love you with all of my heart, even all the broken pieces. Enjoy your first Christmas in heaven and know that I am counting the days till I can have you for eternity.

Love forever, Mommy

My First Trip to Korea

Today I was thinking about my first trip to Korea and how hard it was. I was 22 and had just graduated from college and moved to South Korea on a whim to teach English in a tiny town called Munmak. I was literally the only foreigner in the town. When I would walk down the street, kids would run ahead of me yelling, “Meeguk saram! Meeguk saram!” Which meant, “American! American!” Once, I got on an elevator and a kid just burst into tears because he was so terrified of me and he couldn’t escape. They could not fathom that my eyes were blue and my hair was curly without the help of a perm. Anyway, I spoke no Korean and no one really spoke English and the “school” I worked for turned out to be a joke and the director, Mrs. Cha was taking advantage of me (which took me a while to figure out.) She used to withhold my mail and packages that came from America and use them to manipulate me. I was legally supposed to only work at her school, but by the time I quit I was working at five different schools and I had over 500 students. I was working a ton of overtime every week with no extra pay. I had no idea what was happening and every day was full of (mostly) unpleasant surprises.

One day after I had been there for about a week, the director told me to go on the school bus to a new school that I would be teaching at. No one had told me I would be teaching at a new school that day (after I had already taught at my school all day) but what was I supposed to do? So the Korean bus driver takes me to this Korean High School and drops me off with no advice on what to do (obviously, since he didn’t speak a word of English.) A teacher at the school leads me in and directs me to a classroom full of teenagers. So there I am, standing in front of a room full of kids with no teaching material, nothing planned, and no idea how long the class even lasted. It turned out to be the first of 3 classes I had to teach that evening. Then they just put me on a city bus expecting me to know how to get home. Also, while I was at the High School I had one of my first experiences with the traditional Korean toilet, which is basically just a hole in the ground. I decided to wait until I got back to my apartment to use the bathroom. Well, I had no idea I would be riding on a city bus that stopped ten thousand times before I got back to my apartment. I literally almost peed my pants on that bus in front of all those Koreans staring at me. I think that was the first time in my life I REALLY learned how to pray. Those kinds of experiences happened almost every day. Now, looking back, it seems hilarious and kind of wonderful, but at the time it was terrifying and unnerving.

When I finally quit that job I had to go to Japan to get a different visa so I could return to Korea and work for a different school. I had two American friends who were in the army and they decided to go with me and make a fun trip of it. They made all the arrangements, booked our flights, found hotels and planned where we were going to go. As we were getting on the plane, my two army friends were stopped and pulled aside for questioning. We realized that they hadn’t gotten the right signatures from their commanding officers saying they could leave the country. They weren’t allowed to board the plane. Suddenly, I was on an airplane to Japan all alone and I had no idea what to do or where to go once I got there. I was terrified. It was the craziest trip ever and basically I was lost in Japan for three days and two nights. I even tried to make friends once with the homeless Japanese guys in Tokyo, hoping they would let me hang out with them (they had very neat and clean cardboard boxes that looked very inviting at the time.) They rejected me, especially when I started trying to speak Korean to them- not sure what I was hoping for there. Luckily I ran into some Nigerians who were very helpful (and my African background helped.) They showed me where the embassy was in Osaka where I could get my new visa and helped me get where I was going. Here are my visa pictures that were taken that day. I look calm, but I was freaking out on the inside.

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I eventually made it back to the airport just in time for my return flight back to Korea, but I didn’t have any of my luggage with me (long story.) Everything turned out ok and I am alive today to tell the story. Even my luggage arrived in the mail one day several weeks later! One of the Nigerian guys had spent $100 to mail me my luggage (I’m still not sure how he got my address in Korea.)

I have so many stories like that from my first trip to Korea. Every day I would wake up and have no idea what ridiculous thing was going to happen. I always felt like I had the choice to completely freak out and stress over all of the terrible things that could happen that day, or I could trust God to be with me and be my confidence. I found this verse and I loved it so much. It became my theme while I was there.

Deuteronomy 31:8 The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you, He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged.

I loved the idea of God going before me in my day. I pictured the day laid out ahead of me, sunrise to sunset. Then I pictured God walking into the future day and standing there, waiting for me. He stands there and looks back at me and says, “Come on. I’m here waiting for you.” He was there already, wherever “there” was, and that made me feel safe. He wasn’t surprised when I was suddenly lost in Japan for three days. He was not surprised when my boss, Mrs. Cha, started acting like a crazy lady. He was not surprised by any of it. He was there waiting for me already.

When Josh decided to go to grad school it was a big decision because we knew it would mean me working every day and him being gone most of the time. It was a big transition for our family. We also knew that it would be very hard to get through a pregnancy during that time (I get really sick for the first 4 months and can’t cook or clean and can barely care for the boys.) But, we wanted another baby so bad and the age gap was opening up between Asher and the next baby (we like them close, although Asher was only 1, which makes me laugh now.) So we took the plunge and decided to try for baby #3. We got pregnant right after Josh started grad school. It was so hard to work and take care of the boys all alone and be so sick. And that was BEFORE we even knew Lucy was in danger. It got so much harder when we had weekly doctor’s appointments and the stress of wondering if our baby would be ok. We thought we were going to have another baby, so we moved out of our little apartment in January right before Lucy died. It was so chaotic. Then we lost her and the grief hit like a tsunami. Things are settling down a little bit, finally, but Josh graduates in the spring and we don’t know where he will get a job. We will move wherever he gets a job. He’s looking in Tuscaloosa AL, Birmingham AL, Columbia SC, Memphis TN, South Korea and United Arab Emirates. Who knows where we will be next year.

Now, instead of feeling anxious about my day ahead of me, I feel that way about the rest of my life. I feel like anything could happen. It’s very likely that I will lose another baby, possibly even go through another stillbirth. I don’t know how to get through all the days, the holidays, the transitions, the new babies being born and new pregnancy announcements and all the rest of my years carrying my heavy grief instead of my baby girl. That is a daunting task, but I remember when I was in Korea and He took care of me. Even though that was a really hard time, I look back on it now with fondness. It was the adventure of a lifetime and I learned so much and He did what He said He would do. I ended up loving Korea so much that I went back two years later with my new husband and taught English there for two more years. God goes before me now, wherever that is and He waits for me there. Whether it’s in Alabama or South Carolina or South Korea or somewhere in the Middle East, or a place of more tragedy or a place of joy and abundance- He is there already. That is what gives me the strength to keep going and to take risks and be brave. He will never leave me or forsake me.

Ornaments for Lucy and her friends

The other night we put up our Christmas tree. It wasn’t as sad as I thought it would be because the boys were so excited and their joy was contagious. I did have a breakdown when I saw this ornament, which should be Lucy’s this year (It says “Baby’s 1st Christmas” at the bottom.)

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But instead I ordered this ornament for her and it looks so beautiful on the tree.

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The next day, the boys and I painted ornaments for Lucy and her friends in heaven. They still don’t know about their other two siblings in heaven, so I just included them as two more of “Lucy’s friends.” photo-19photo-20photo-21

Painting these ornaments for these babies made me so happy. Not much about Christmas this year has made me happy, but this did. The boys loved hearing all the names of Lucy’s friends, especially Liam. He understands much more than Asher and thinks heaven is a very cool place with cool people in it (and he’s right.) It seems to comfort him to know Lucy has friends to play with. He asked several times, “Mommy, tell me all the names again.” I love saying these babies’ names because they are not said enough. They should be said for a lifetime, but very few people hear their names spoken. They were spoken in my house on this day and it sounded beautiful to my ears.

We made ornaments for Simon, Milly Brandon, Lucy, Jude, Pax, Calvin, Luke, Rylan, Esther, Taidgh, Aubrey Rose and Ann Reese (both represented by the AR) and baby V. photo-18There were so many other babies I wanted to make ornaments for and I almost went back to Hobby Lobby to buy more ornaments to paint, but then I thought, “Where will it end?” I would have to buy several packs of ornaments if I wanted to make one for every baby that I know who has been lost. I don’t even know if they would all fit on my Christmas tree. That thought made me sad because how can so many babies die? How can so many parents and siblings go through this pain? So, this year I decided to only make as many ornaments that came in the pack I bought. As I worked on each ornament I prayed for the family who is missing their precious baby this Christmas. Every time I see these ornaments on the tree now I pray for these families. Liam was so excited about hanging all the ornaments on the tree and wouldn’t let anybody else do it.photo-23 photo-24photo-22

And of course, he hung them all at the very bottom of the tree 🙂

photo-25Merry Christmas Simon, Lucy, Jude, Pax, Luke, Rylan, baby V., Aubrey Rose, Calvin, Milly Brandon, Ann Reese, Esther and Taidgh. I know your first Christmas in heaven is going to be so much more amazing than all of our Christmases on earth put together.

*Edited to add- I just realized that this is not Ann Reese’s first Christmas in heaven. She died last Christmas Eve, so technically this is her second Christmas in heaven, although it’s not any easier on her family I’m sure.

One year ago today…

One year ago today I saw Lucy and heard her heartbeat for the first time. I also found out I had anti-kell antibodies. I was nine weeks pregnant and went to my first doctor’s appointment. IMG_0945Josh skipped one of his classes to come and see the new baby on the ultrasound. I had a nagging feeling that something was going to be wrong with the baby or they would have trouble finding the heartbeat. We were so relieved when we saw her kicking around on that ultrasound screen! She was perfect and developing exactly how she should have been. Her heartbeat was wonderful and I remember my own heart fluttering with excitement and joy when I heard that sweet sound for the first time. We were so happy and desperately hoping for a girl. Since everything looked great, Josh left and went back to class while I went to meet with the OB. I thought we would be discussing what we would be doing differently this time towards the end of the pregnancy since Asher had gone past his due date in my last pregnancy and weighed over 10 pounds. I pictured us laughing about how surprised we both were when Asher came out so gigantic. He was so huge he had a fat roll between his eyes. Ok, I have to share a picture now-

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Chubby Asher a few hours after birth

But we never talked about Asher or about how I would be delivering this new baby. Dr. C walked in with a smile, but I could tell that his eyes were worried. He didn’t ask how I was feeling or talk about how healthy the baby looked on the ultrasound. I remember his exact words, “There’s a problem with the blood work.” And my heart sank and I wished Josh had stayed with me. I found out my new baby had an 80% chance at surviving and that I would never have a normal pregnancy again. I remember being so confused about the antibodies, wondering why they hadn’t affected Liam or Asher. Dr. C. said so many things and I absorbed maybe 20% of it because I just kept thinking, “This can’t be happening.” I asked him to write down what the “disorder” was called so I could go home and research it online. I still have the piece of paper that he wrote on. For some weird reason I feel very sentimental about it.photo-15I assumed Lucy would make it, but I was devastated that I might have to stop after only 3 children. I didn’t know how I could function with only 3 children. How could this be my last baby? I’m pretty sure Dr. C had seen my titer and knew how strong my antibodies were. Anything over 8 was critical for the baby and mine were 1,024. Luckily, he didn’t share that info with me that day and I didn’t know to ask. What he did say was that the situation was dire. I thought it was strange that Lucy had an 80% chance of survival and she looked perfect, but my doctor told me the situation was dire. Now, a year later, I am so thankful he told me that. I had 11 MFMs (high risk doctors) later on in the pregnancy and they all seemed very optimistic and nonchalant. Only Dr. C, who didn’t even specialize in high risk pregnancies, actually gave me a clear picture of what Lucy and I were facing.

After the appointment was over I went to my mom’s to pick up the boys. They were running around chasing each other in the front yard. I watched them laughing and rolling around on the ground, the sun reflecting off their blonde hair, and I absolutely COULD NOT FATHOM losing a child. I thought how unfair it was that these two got here so easily but this new little one already had so many things to overcome. “But she has an 80% chance!”  I told myself. Unfortunately, someone has to be in that 20%, and that was us.

Did God Let Me Down?

I used to say things like, “God has never let me down in the past, so I can trust that He won’t in the future.” But now when I try to say that, the words get stuck in my throat. I begged Him to spare Lucy’s life. I begged Him to spare us the pain of losing another baby after we lost Lucy. I begged Him AGAIN to please protect our hearts from more hurt after we lost Jude. He did none of those things. Did God let me down?

If I’m honest, yes, God let me down, big time. He gave me my sweet daughter that I’ve always wanted and then snatched her back out of my arms before her life could really start. The past year of my life has been the most spectacular disaster, seemingly engineered to break my spirit and cause me breathtaking pain. Many of my pleas to God have been answered with an obvious, “No.” He has allowed my heart to be broken and I have watched my husband’s heart break and my two little boys weep over the loss of their baby sister. Did God let me down?

I had expectations of God and how He should order my life. He did not meet my expectations. But I know God is not in the wrong, because He is perfect and He loves me unconditionally. My expectations were wrong. I expected Him to keep me and my family safe from heartache and pain. He never promised me that, so why did I expect it? In fact, He promises trouble in this life.

John 16:33 In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

As Lucy died, God told me that He would redeem it. The whole time I was giving birth and recovering in the hospital afterwards He told me repeatedly that He would redeem it. I had a picture of what that redemption should look like in my head, and it definitely didn’t involve more heartache or more babies of mine dying. Just because He hasn’t redeemed it YET and He hasn’t redeemed it in the way I expected, that does not mean that He has let me down. I think it means He has something better for me than my human expectations.

God is God. If He is God, He is worthy of my worship and my service. I will find rest nowhere but in His will, and that will is infinitely, immeasurably, unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what He is up to. – E. Elliott

Part of me thinks that because I try to obey God and honor Him He should protect me from pain and give me the things that I want. Part of me thinks that He owes me A LOT since He took Lucy and my two other little ones. He owes me a live baby. Again, my human expectations get in the way and try to fit God into a very small, predictable box. Have I forgotten the earnest prayer I prayed just last year before I got pregnant with Lucy, “Oh Lord, humble me. Make my life count for eternity. Let my life be a light to others that draws them to you. Do WHATEVER it takes to rid me of my complacency. Deepen my relationship with you.” He has answered that prayer with a yes and the way He is answering that prayer is through suffering. Isn’t that prayer more important than the “protect me from pain” prayer?

I know I always talk about her, but I can’t help it. Elisabeth Elliott’s husband was a missionary to the Auca indians in South America. He was obeying God and serving Him and God let the Aucas murder him. They also murdered four other missionaries and left many children without Daddies and wives without their husbands. Jim-Elliot-and-Friends-300x230

The families reacted with love and forgiveness towards the Auca indians and eventually it led to the gospel spreading through the tribe. That was several decades ago and since then lots of people have wanted to know how many Auca indians became Christians after the missionaries were slaughtered. It is one of the questions that people most often ask Elisabeth Elliott. Here’s her answer:

There is always the urge to oversimplify…five men died. This will mean x-number of Auca Christians. Perhaps so. Perhaps not. Cause and effect are in God’s hands. Is it not the part of faith simply to let them rest there? God is God. I dethrone Him in my heart if I demand that He act in ways that satisfy my idea of justice. It is the same spirit that taunted, “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” There is unbelief, there is even rebellion, in the attitude which says, “God has no right to do this to five men unless…”                                                – E. Elliott

I’m learning to let go of my human expectations of God and I’m letting go of my idea of what justice should look like. I’m learning to expect MORE from God and to hold Him to it. I expect Him to redeem my loss in whatever way He wants and I’m trusting that it will be better than I can imagine. I expect Him to carry me through the pain and be with me in my suffering. I expect Him to heal me and Josh and Liam and Asher. He will not let me down.